Blacwater fire Changes Methods of Firefighting in 1937
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The Blackwater fire of 1937 was a forest fire that occurred when a lightning strike ignited a tree in the Shoshone National Forest. It lasted for 6 days and killed 15 people, injuring a further 38; David P. Godwin (investigator of the fire) said,“not since 1910 have so many lives been lost on a single national forest fire”. The fire consumed a total of 1700 acres of forest woodland1 in this time. The Blackwater fire’s dire effect therefore resulted in the methods of firefighting that were used at this time being reviewed and updated to try to make firefighting safer for those involved in combating fire.
The forest fire started on the 18th of August 1937 but remained unnoticed until the 20th when it was located in a drainage bottom, having already spread 2 acres1. A spotter plane finally detected the fire and it was reported to the local ranger station. The ranger station deployed 58 men1, to construct a fireline and to set up water pumps. This delay in finding the fire, however, proved to be crucial as the fire had already had time to spread through the forest and led to small spots of fire already having split of from the main body. These would prove to be critical later on. In the investigation following the Blackwater fire, David P. Godwin noted that if the men had arrived earlier “they would have had sufficient time to complete the line job ahead of the 3:30pm gale which caused the blow up”3. He therefore suggested the “Smokejumper Project”3, in which firefighters would parachute to the area of the fire in the hopes that it would cut down reaction time. Smokejumpers are trained wildland firefighters who parachute to the location when the fire is still small and extinguish it before it becomes a threat; they are still used t...
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...n into the fire and the subsequent changes to the firefighting methods were designed to have an effect, especially on improving the safety of the firefighters themselves. The changes impacted on the safety of firefighters, the training firefighters receive and acknowledged the importance of recognising weather conditions when dealing with fires.